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Film / Emma

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"One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."

Despite not having Pride and Prejudice-level popularity, Emma has inspired not one or two, but five straight adaptations currently available, and quite a few slant ones. These adaptations tend to provoke rather violent flame wars, though it seems to have calmed down a bit since the 2009 miniseries was made.

These films find their match in these tropes:

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     1972 miniseries

The BBC adapted Emma as part of their general habit of doing Jane Austen novels every ten to twenty years. Starred Doran Godwin as Emma and John Carson as Mr. Knightley.

  • Adaptation Expansion: Though ostensibly faithful to the novel, the writer actually expanded many things - from Emma's early prattle making her seem almost like a Miss Bates wannabe, to Mr. Elton's reading to Emma and Harriet during the portrait painting (mentioned but not shown in the novel). Interestingly, the strawberry picking at Donwell and the outing to Box Hill are combined into one day, though each is again stretched by the writer.

     1996 film

Written and directed by Douglas McGrath for Miramax Films, the film starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma and Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley.

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: A minor case concerning Miss Bates. When Emma goes to visit her after the Box Hill picnic disaster, she arrives in time to witness Miss Bates scurrying from the room and asking her mother to say she is unwell, and it is only later that Emma's narration expresses hope of repairing their friendship. In the original novel and all the other screen adaptations, Miss Bates does receive and speak to Emma (albeit more reservedly than she has been in the past), and Emma is able to apologize, speak kindly to her, and start repairing their friendship right there.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the novel, Emma, in a rare physical description by Jane Austen, has "the true hazel eye". Gwyneth Paltrow, on the other hand, has definitely blue eyes, which were highlighted in promotional materials (such as the CD score cover).
  • The Confidant: In this movie, Emma tells Mrs Weston almost everything and often asks her for advice. In the book, she's more independent.
  • Fun with Homophones: Dear and deer.
    Emma: Oh dear!
    Mr. Knightley: What's that?
    Emma: Oh, ah, something about the ah, deer... we need... for the venison stew.
  • Gaussian Girl: Emma frequently appears as such, especially when writing in her diary, thinking about Mr. Knightley.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Several devices are used to make the film more cinematic, such as the beautiful opening with the spinning model globe. Additionally, the Harriet plot is emphasized to the near-exclusion of the Frank Churchill sections. Various elements such as the archery scene, the diaries, and the conversations with Mrs. Weston also indicate the choices deemed necessary to translate the story.
  • Relationship Compression: Because of the expansion of the Harriet sections, the Frank/Jane relationship is almost relegated to an afterthought - most of it happens completely offscreen, and some of Jane's actions are even given to other characters such as Miss Bates.
  • Younger and Hipper: Jeremy Northam was only a few years younger than Mr. Knightley, but partly due to Gwyneth Paltrow's height, he was often perceived as "exactly the same age as Emma" (to quote Anthony Lane of The New Yorker).

     1996 telefilm

ITV's telefilm starring Kate Beckinsale as Emma, Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley, and Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax. The brainchild of the landmark 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice team of writer Andrew Davies and producer Sue Birtwistle.

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Though not directly spelled out in the telefilm, Andrew Davies gave a version of this to Frank Churchill. Instead of the somewhat careless charmer of the novel, Davies believes that Frank is a sociopath who hates women as a result of his mother's death (viewed as abandonment) and his aunt's controlling personality.
  • Adaptational Villainy: As a result of the above, Churchill's treatment of Jane is shown as more callous than it was in the book, and it's implied that he's going to keep on flirting after he's married in the complete confidence that his wife will always forgive him, making poor Jane's life miserable.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Though Emma is the second longest Austen novel and this telefilm is only an hour and 47 minutes long, Andrew Davies does a great job at keeping nearly all the relevant dialogue, scenes, and events. The resultant film is very faithful in event and general tone, but much, much faster paced. A few integrations of filmic techniques are seen in the use of Emma's imaginations being visualized, and the ending shades into Pragmatic Adaptation with the combination of events into a Harvest Festival.
  • Author Appeal: Screenwriter Andrew Davies tends to alter or adapt one older male character in his screenplays to a recognizable type of friendly, sociable, homebody fellow - in Emma, it's Mr. Weston, who in the novel is something of a clueless social butterfly, but here pipes in with a few words on the joys of marriage and home life.
  • Book Ends: Chicken thieves make a raid in the first and last scenes.
  • Dance Party Ending: Regency country dancing variant. The film ends with everyone dancing at the harvest feast at Donwell Abbey. The upper-class, tenants, servants, all socializing together. The Eltons don't approve.
  • Dream Sequence: Emma's daydreams and matchmaking scenarios often appear via this device - usually with hilariously over-the-top dream music, flower petals, slow motion, and first person point of view.
  • Empathic Environment: As in the novel, Emma's Lost Love Montage occurs during a very appropriate rainstorm, which leads to a powerful scene of Emma looking out a window, the light falling through the windows showing how the rain parallels Emma's tears.
  • Genki Girl: Though not as pronounced as Romola Garai's 2009 Emma, Kate Beckinsale's Emma is described in the screenplay as possessing bouncing arrogance and energy. Additionally, when she thinks her scheme between Harriet and Mr. Elton is succeeding, she gives a very cheerful bounce as she walks towards her house.
  • Ms. Imagination: Emma is this version has a very vivid imagination and sees romance everywhere, complete with daydreams and matchmaking scenarios.
  • Nightmare Sequence: In a counterpart to her dreams, Emma's worst fears also play out in her dreams when Mr. Knightley marries first Jane Fairfax, then Harriet Smith, demonstrating Emma's growing awareness of her own feelings.
  • Lost Love Montage: When Emma realizes she's been in love with Mr Knightley for a long time, she experiences this during an appropriate rainstorm.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Emma's insult to Miss Bates, which shocks the entire outing party to speechlessness. Mr. Knightley rebukes her for this, saying severely, "That was badly done, Emma. Badly done!", reducing her to tears.

     2009 miniseries 
See Emma.

     2020 film